Plastics are entangling ants and other insects, according to new study

Plastics entangling and choking creatures in our oceans has been an environmental crisis for years, but according to a study published in the journal Ecological Entomology, it looks like plastics are ensnaring ants and other insects as well. And the ants observed in the study — conducted by researcher Armand Rausell-Moreno on the island of La Palma, Spain — were collected near hiking trails and roads that see human traffic.

"Here, we present records of two ant species…found entangled in synthetic fibres," the report says. "To our knowledge, this is one of the first reports of ants and other insects being entangled in plastics."

From Study Finds:

This alarming observation was made on the Spanish island of La Palma by Armand Rausell-Moreno from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid. While interning in 2022, Rausell-Moreno identified ants entwined in plastic fibers. He later collaborated with ant specialist J. Manuel Vidal-Cordero and Álvaro Luna, a professor at the European University of Madrid, to delve deeper into this troubling discovery.

The team believes that this might be the first documented instance of insects, and potentially other land-dwelling invertebrates, being contaminated by plastic.

"It all started serendipitously. Armand chose ants as the focal point of his project during his internship on La Palma," says Luna, according to a statement from SWNS. "Upon preliminary examination of his collected samples, he spotted some synthetic material tangled around the ants. Subsequently, J. Manuel Vidal used more refined optical equipment for species identification." …

"Recognizing its significance, we sought external validation from a lab experienced in analyzing plastic fibers," the researcher adds.

"Both my colleagues were certain that their protocols precluded accidental contamination. The entanglement of plastic around these ethanol-preserved ants suggests that the plastic became tangled during the ants' movements," Luca explains, according to SWNS.

"We truly don't grasp the full scope of this issue. While it's improbable that the entanglement crisis in terrestrial ecosystems mirrors that of marine ones, we lack concrete data to either confirm or refute this hypothesis," Luna concluded, via Study Finds. "In my opinion, the diminutive size of insects means fewer people encounter or photograph such plastic-related impacts firsthand. Thus, if this is a widespread issue, it has largely flown under the radar."